WASHINGTON — When 398 members of the U.S. House of Representatives voted to condemn the movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, only 17 voted in opposition.
Among the 17 were Rep. Mark Pocan, whose Second District includes Madison, and Rep. Gwen Moore, whose Fourth District includes much of Milwaukee County’s Jewish-heavy North Shore. Both are Democrats.
The House vote July 24, 2019 was on the non-binding resolution, “Opposing efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel and the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement targeting Israel.”
Voting against were 16 Democrats, including two who back BDS, Reps. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and one Republican, Thomas Massie of Kentucky.
Moore’s office did not respond to a Chronicle request for comment. Pocan’s press office referred to his comments on the floor of the House.
“I do not support the BDS movement,” he said on the House floor, adding that he believes BDS can actually have a negative economic impact on Palestinians.
But he said he “cannot support this resolution as worded,” saying that the resolution “goes too far in my opinion in telling people what they can or should think or say about the situation in Israel.”
The resolution does say Americans have a right to petition in opposition to government policy, a nod toward some Democrats who oppose separate legislation that penalizes Israel boycotts because, they say, such penalties impinge on speech freedoms.
The resolution, backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, also enshrines the two-state outcome to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at a time that the Trump administration and Israel’s government have retreated from the concept.
Pocan said Israel is a “good friend” of the United States and is “a strong democracy and a close ally of our country.”
He added, “I also think it’s OK to be critical of the Netanyahu Administration, their government and their policies.” If a dear friend does something that jeopardizes themselves, one has a moral obligation to say something, he said.
Moore has described herself as a “strong supporter of the U.S.-Israeli relationship.” But in 2009 she was among only five House members to vote against a resolution condemning Hamas’s role in a conflict at that time, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The Jewish Community Relations Council of Milwaukee Jewish Federation is reaching out to both Pocan and Moore’s offices with an eye towards setting meetings to discuss these and other related issues, according to JCRC Director Elana Kahn.
“While we cherish our First Amendment rights to protest through boycott, we are also deeply concerned about the mainstreaming of an unfair focus on Israel,” Kahn told the Chronicle. “With all the crises in the world, why is the only active boycott movement in our country focusing on Israel? Moreover, the BDS movement inaccurately and unfairly places all the blame for a complicated and long-running conflict on Israel, rather than looking at the complex with a clear-eyed and fair-minded approach.”
Rep. Brad Schneider, D-Ill., one of the resolution’s lead sponsors, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that bringing a vast majority of the House, including virtually the entire GOP caucus, on board in backing two states was a major achievement. The Republican Party abandoned two states in its 2016 platform.
“It is an important statement that the United States is committed to a negotiated two-state solution to ensure that Israel is Jewish and democratic,” Schneider said in an interview.
Rep. Lee Zeldin of New York, one of two Jewish Republicans in the House, was the lead GOP sponsor of the resolution.
Republicans continued to press for the Democratic-led House to pass separate legislation already approved by the Senate that would protect states that penalize boycotters.
“We take a first step today by publicly acknowledging BDS is dangerous and antisemitic,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the senior Republican on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who authored the House version of the Senate bill. “But tomorrow we must take real actions — and advance the real policies in my bill — to protect Israel and combat the BDS movement.”
Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., who has backed tough anti-BDS penalties, cautioned against pushing too hard on the other bills, a sign that centrist Democrats are not soon going to join a Republican maneuver to bring the tougher bills to a vote against the wishes of the Democratic leadership.
“When you get something, don’t immediately put your hand out for more,” Gottheimer, who leads a group of centrist Democrats, told JTA. “We should appreciate the importance and significance of today and of course keep fighting.”
Schneider, who is Jewish, said the passage of the anti-BDS resolution made clear that opposition to the movement was a consensus issue. “I spent the last four months working with my colleagues so they understand the purpose of” the resolution, “what impact it will have in our [Jewish] community and promoting peace in the Middle East,” he said.
The Zionist Organization of America dismissed the anti-BDS resolution as toothless, objecting particularly to its endorsement of a two-state solution, which it has long opposed.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency contributed to this story.